By Hosking, Patrick
New Statesman (1996) , Vol. 133, No. 4689
The sacking of Piers Morgan once again underlines the extraordinary aversion to publicity of City power-brokers-even when they are wielding the blunt instrument.
Many of Trinity Mirror's biggest UK institutional shareholders complained of Morgan's reck lessness in putting the Mirror's reputation, circulation and profits at risk. But they all did so under the cloak of anonymity. There were unnamed City sources galore, unattributable quotations by the truckload.
Yet, ploughing through the acres of news coverage, I have not yet seen a single UK institution put its head above the parapet--either before the Mirror editor was escorted from the building, or immediately after.
Morgan, his boss Sly Bailey, and her boss, Sir Victor Blank, have all had to act in the full glare of media spotlights. Those who actually applied pressure to get him sacked remain in the shadows, accountable to no one.
Fear of missing out on future pension fund mandates is usually the reason for such investor timidity. After all, Morgan, or any other victim of a City putsch, may be a future pension fund trustee with patronage in his gift. But fear of being accused of rank hypocrisy is probably more of a factor: for fat-cat pay, for questionable customer practices, for lack of transparency, and for plain poor performance, parts of the fund-management industry rank with the best.
As usual, it was left to an American shareholder to speak out publicly. Tweedy, Browne--the New York-based fund manager--at least had the balls to put its name to the criticism aimed at Morgan. Tweedy, Browne has done more to uncover Lord Black's alleged plundering of the Telegraph Group than any UK institution.
Stanley Baldwin once accused the old press barons of "power without responsibility--the prerogative of the harlot through the ages". It is a criticism that could equally be levelled at Britain's fund-management industry.
PS: Since writing this, one UK institution has broken cover. Isis--the fund-management arm of Friends Provident and Royal & Sun Alliance--has gone public to warn the Trinity Mirror board not to give Morgan a big pay-off.
Few things have more damaged the savings culture in Britain than the sight of occupational pension schemes being wound up with big shortfalls when their sponsoring companies go bust.
So, in spite of all the unanswered questions, it is good to see Andrew Smith, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, finally capitulating to rebellious backbenchers and earmarking [pounds sterling]0. …